For around 30 years, a small pink packet, featuring an image of grapes on the top corner, was the epitome of biscuits for Bangladeshi households.
Nabisco Glucose biscuit was very popular as a snack and was typically served with tea.
Even two decades back, the biscuit market in Bangladesh did not have a lot of variety. Nabisco Glucose biscuit and Al-Amin pineapple biscuit were the two main options consumers were stuck with it.
Today, however, the market is brimming with nearly 100 different types of biscuits. Complementing them, the number of small bakeries making biscuits has exceeded 5,000. The country produces some 4,75,000 tonnes of biscuits annually, worth almost Tk6,000 crore.
“I take a cup of tea and two biscuits in the morning and evening,” said Monir Hossain, a 45-year-old CNG-autorickshaw driver. “I can basically have a filling meal for Tk10-11. You can’t buy anything else at that price.”
Among daily consumer products, biscuit is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, growing at 15 percent annually. The growth is driven by the rise of the middle class, low production cost, and the availability of a diverse range of products.
The biscuit market is divided into three sections - biscuits of general bakeries, biscuits of small local firms and biscuits of established big firms. The popularity of branded biscuits is rising among consumers because of relatively cheaper prices.
“I sell around 30 packets of biscuits daily,” said Jasimuddin, a salesman at Zakia Store in Banglamotor. “Shopkeepers and CNG-autorickshaw drivers stop over at my shop throughout the day.”
Bangladesh Auto Bread and Biscuit Manufacturers Association (BABBMA) President Md Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan said biscuits now mean a full meal for Bangladeshis.
“This is because companies are using a great variety of healthy food components to make biscuits. Besides, we have affordable products made in state-of-the-art factories,” he told The Business Standard.
Indeed, biscuits of many different flavours are available in the market, including potato, cumin, chocolate cream, wafer, toast, salt, peanut, milk, ghee, vegetables, coffee, strawberry, orange and many more.
Besides, there are also low-sugar biscuits for diabetes patients and digestive biscuits to help digestion.
A booming market
BABBMA says around a hundred large-scale firms manufacture some 4,75,000 tonnes of biscuits worth almost Tk6,000 crore annually.
In terms of market share, Olympic Industries Limited ranks first among the manufacturers. In 2018, the company accounted for 22 percent of the entire market share, selling biscuits worth Tk 1,200 crore.
The company’s sale has jumped by 161 percent in the last seven years. It has found notable success by marketing different brands, such as Tip, Energy Plus, Nutty and Lexus.
Presently, the company produces biscuits of 42 different brands.
Olympic Industries Limited Secretary Md Nizam Uddin told The Business Standard his company had enjoyed the highest growth among all biscuit firms in the last decade.
“Consumers are buying our products enthusiastically because we offer quality and a diverse range of products.”
Both Nabisco Biscuit and Bread Factory Limited and Pran-RFL Group come in second place, holding 8 percent market share each.
Pran, having joined the biscuit market officially in 2012, has introduced a great variety of biscuits in the market. The company sells a sizable amount of products through its signature Mithai outlets while also occupying store shelves.
Pran-RFL Group’s Director of marketing, Kamruzzaman Kamal, said his company is growing at 10-12 percent annually.
“We now produce biscuits for all kinds of buyers. Our own Mithai outlets are the main sales points.”
Haque, Al-Amin and Danish have 5 percent of the market share each. They are followed by Bongos, Romania, Deco, Globe, Fu-Wang, Bonoful, Kishowan, Thai Food, Bengal, Gold Mark, Mashafi and New Olympia, each accounting for 2-3 percent.
Other companies, including Cocola, Pinnacle, Kakoli, Shifa and Kohinoor Industry, have also occupied a sizable portion of the market.
Bashundhara Group, one of the biggest conglomerates, is in the pipeline to join the race.
Market analysts and producers say biscuits in Bangladesh are priced reasonably, considering the inflation rate. The retail price of a single piece of biscuit sold by large manufacturers generally starts at Tk3. Minipacks are sold for Tk5-10 while family packs are priced at a maximum of Tk640, based on size and quality.
Bakeries sell salted biscuits at Tk180 per kg, sweet biscuits at Tk200 per kg, dry cakes at Tk180 per kg and toast at Tk120 per kg.
Manufacturers say biscuits are affordable to average earners when compared to prices of other food items.
Manager of Romania Food, Sabbir Ahmed, told The Business Standard: “In the last decade, prices of most products have gone up manifold, but biscuit prices have not increased. A minipack is sold at Tk5-10, and it has remained the same for a good number of years.”
Quality and health hazard
Professionals and experts say packaged biscuits sold in the country do not pose any known health hazards.
But they said biscuits of general bakeries should be bought with caution as they are not always produced in completely hygienic conditions.
Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI) said the quality of biscuits depends on the mixing process of sugar, wheat, edible oil and the overall production process. Local producers of packaged biscuits have to obtain a quality assurance certificate before they can produce and sell in the market.
BSTI Director Md Sajjadul Bari said the quality of hard biscuits is beyond question as their production is automated.
“The BSTI has been approving these products after testing their standard and quality,” he said.
The BSTI official also raised questions regarding the quality of bakery biscuits.
Do Bangladeshis eat a lot of biscuits?
The biscuit industry in Bangladesh has experienced rapid growth but per capita consumption of the snack is not very high.
In fact, Bangladesh is behind all South Asian countries in terms of per capita biscuit consumption while Sri Lanka has the lead, according to IBISWorld, a US-based industry research firm.
The annual per capita biscuit consumption in Sri Lanka is 4kg while it is 1.8kg in Bangladesh. The amount is 2.2kg in India, and 2.5 kg in Pakistan.
The highest per capita consumption of biscuit is in Japan, in the Asian region.
However, in terms of industry growth, Bangladesh is keeping up with the rest of the world. The average global growth of the biscuit industry was 15.61 percent during the five-year period from 2010 to 2015. Bangladesh has an average growth rate of 15 percent annually.
Bangladeshi biscuits in the global market
The Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) of Bangladesh says Bangladesh exports six different types of bakery products, including bread, biscuit and cake, to the Middle East and some other countries.
The export items are crispbread, ginger bread, sweet biscuit, waffle and wafer, rusk and pastry. Of these, sweet biscuit and rusk are exported the highest.
In 2017-18 fiscal year, the total export earnings from these products were Tk458 crore. In the previous fiscal year, export earnings from bread, biscuit and cake were Tk422 crore.